|Abyssinian Church by D. Minter|
Each New Year's Eve is a pause, a moment balanced on tiptoe, waiting for the world either to slide backward to the times that we have known, or lurch forwards into the times that we can only imagine or for which we can hope. It's a liminal, in-between moment where past, present, and future meet.
As you might imagine, for a cultural historian such as myself, this is a magical moment where we celebrate as a society something that I hold dear every day: the power of the past to shape our present. Sometimes, or perhaps always, the past holds not just memories drenched with nostalgia, but experiences from which we want to purge ourselves. Whether its individual or collective, this purging requires that we acknowledge, name, and remember that from which we want to distinguish or define ourselves. Since this Heritage in Maine blog is about "the living connection with Maine's past," I won't rattle on about my individual desire to both define and purge myself relative to my own past, but instead provide an example of how some of us, collectively, pause and recognize the in-between moment, and name the past against which we want to distinguish and define ourselves.
Today I learned that the Green Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on Munjoy Hill in Portland - also known as AME Zion - holds a "Watch Night Service" on New Year's Eve. What's Watch Night? I quote here from the African American Lectionary (the first online, ecumenical preaching and worship lectionary for African American Christians):
"What’s considered Watch Night Service in the black church tradition might be otherwise understood as a church service on New Year’s Eve. But this African American tradition is perhaps one of the greatest cultural touchstones for what it means to be black and Christian in America. Passed down by our ancestors, Watch Night Service is one of the last vestiges retained from chattel slavery by African American Christians. Several accounts are given attesting to the fact that enslaved blacks could not sleep on December 31, 1862, because they were waiting in anticipation all night long, awaiting to receive word of the Emancipation Proclamation — words that would change their status, their lives, and the destiny of their children’s future from the shackles of chattel slavery.
Brad R. Braxton, Baptist Minister and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at McCormick Theological Seminary, explains in more detail the connection between the history of slavery and the contemporary tradition:
|Burial site of some of Maine's Afr. Am. and white abolitionists|